The accidental landlord: keeping bailiffs at bay is my holiday job

The accidental landlord’s break is interrupted when a tenant skips owing council tax and the ‘heavies’ arrive to make good the loss.
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Every time I go on holiday, there’s an incident with one of my rental properties that shatters the feel-good vibe, or so it seems. I tried to prevent being disturbed during my break this year by asking my tenants a couple of weeks beforehand to let me know if they were storing up any issues, so I could sort them out before I left. I heard nothing.
Then, the very evening before my flight, just as I thought the only thing left to do was decide whether to pack SPF 50 or stick with SPF 30, I received a text from a tenant telling me that bailiffs had turned up at my flat to collect goods worth several hundred pounds due to an unpaid council tax bill.
As the tenant wasn’t home when they called, the bailiffs left a note saying they would return to seize the goods unless the debt was paid. The note was addressed to a tenant who left the property more than a year earlier.
I couldn’t understand why the bailiffs had called at my flat as I’d informed the council there had been a change of tenancy and I’d provided them with the previous tenant’s new address. What was going on?
Unfortunately, by the time the tenant alerted me to the note, it was too late in the day to call the bailiffs’ office or the council, so I had to go on holiday with a thought niggling at the back of my mind that some heavies might raid my property.
I wasn’t really worried about them seizing my stuff as there was nothing of any value in the flat, so even if they took every single piece of cheap Ikea furniture in the place, it wouldn’t amount to more than a few quid. But I didn’t want them barging in and snatching my current tenant’s personal belongings.

I wasn’t sure whether bailiffs are allowed to force their way into a property, but the last thing I wanted was them turning up on the doorstep and putting the frighteners on my tenant. She’d only moved in the previous month and I didn’t want her to think I was in some sort of financial difficulty.
I emailed the council and the enforcement agents before I set off for the airport to tell them the tenant named on the note had left, and asked them to call off the hounds. I suggested they contact me directly, rather than returning to the flat.
Then, for three days, I fretted from my sun lounger about what was happening back home.
On the fourth day I received an outrageous email from the council confirming they were aware the offending tenant no longer lived at my flat, and that I wasn’t responsible for her unpaid council tax bill. So why did they threaten to seize my property?
When I returned home I called the council, who explained that bailiffs always go to the last known address to chase a debt, even if they realise a tenant has moved on. Pointless.
This story should serve as a reminder to landlords to tell councils every time there’s a change of tenancy and to make sure the outgoing tenant provides them and all the utility companies with their new address.
Mind you, I had done all that. It seems my council didn’t bother to check the files, preferring to instruct bailiffs and ruin the start of my holiday.
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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